Carolina fans don’t know exactly how to feel after last night. The Tar Heels lost to their sworn enemy, but also took the nation’s second ranked team right down to the wire on their home court. And out of nowhere Roy Williams essentially became the anti-Roy by switching his offense up and starting PJ Hairston.
It was only a few years ago in ’08 at Cameron that Roy duped Coach K by having his team switch on screens late in the game, prompting the Devils to not score a bucket over the final 5 minutes. And again Wednesday night the famed coach who famously “can’t coach” dumbfounded the Blue Devils for the majority of the game. And if it hadn’t been for The Duke Run at the 16 minute mark (11 points in just two minutes), this one might have had the same outcome as Hansbrough’s boys.
Though to be fair, that game was more about Danny Green’s 18-8-7-1 than Hansbrough. But I digress.
Duke had no response for UNC’s small-ball lineup. Though, just calling it “small-ball” doesn’t do justice. What the lineup allowed was for the Heels to go big on Duke’s guards. Williams cleared out the paint with McAdoo’s movement and sent his wings (Hairston, Bullock and McDonald) to post-up on Duke’s smaller perimeter players on the weak side.
Coach K had no answer. It wasn’t just a coincidence that the Heels hadn’t seen lanes that wide open since their last practice in the Dean Dome. Roy exploited Duke’s overplay on defense in the same way that an offensive coordinator purposely lets a team blitz to set up the screen pass.
But the Tar Heels just eventually ran out of gas — the inevitable downside to tightening up the rotation, even if it meant PJ Hairston was finally a bigger part of it.
At least Hairston didn’t disappoint. In the words of Charles Barkley, “That boy competed.”
PJ tied career highs in points and rebounds (23 & 8), but that doesn’t tell half the story. The easy narrative from the game will be that Hairston was finally in the box score starting lineup, but that won’t cover how much he was actually in the box score. Literally. PJ was the only Tar Heel to register a statistic in every category.
The kid was everywhere. He guarded the seven foot Mason Plumlee. He drew fouls. He drew charges. He got blocks. He was getting to tip-ins. And even when he was missing tip-ins, he was still getting to those tip-ins. Without Hairston’s scoring Duke would have gone on a 23-4 run from the 14 to 7 minute marks in the second period.
But with about 6 minutes to go, Hairston and Bullock both came back into the game with their hands on their hips, breathing hard. A few glances were exchanged around press row as if to say “whelp, it was fun, but that’s it.”
It’s no coincidence that this was when the Tar Heels started missing free throws. The Heels shot 56% from the chairty stripe (13-23), but the excuse is obvious: they just got tired. Four players getting over 30 minutes in this game will do that. Bullock and Hairston both had or tied season highs in minutes, and the heat was cranked up as always in Cameron.
After their run Duke never relinquished control of game in which they had 17 TOs and didn’t hit their second three until 25 minutes of play had passed.
How many Tar Heel fans would have taken those two stats and felt pretty good about their chances?
But box scores can be deceiving. On paper McAdoo had one of his worst games of the season with 9 points on 4 of 12 shooting — though that was more or less a product of Roy’s decision to go small. McAdoo probably took too many jumpers but that’s what your big man should do when you’re trying to clear the lane.
If anything, McAdoo did his job with a few dunks and fulfilled his timely role of keeping Plumlee as far from the basket as possible. Duke’s center looked good in the box score but was clearly frustrated for the first ¾ of the basketball game and JMM has to get some credit for that.
The nonstory of the night was UNC’s bench. Leslie played well and had a few solid rebounds but only three points total from your reserves isn’t going to cut it. Johnson and Tokoto were no shows (7 minutes total) but as their first game in Cameron, you can’t blame them. Brice looked fairly comfortable and had a few shots rim-out, but Roy was only going to play one big and a freshman wasn’t going to get it done.
—And not in an environment like Cameron. The theater and the showmanship for this game is first class every time (like Roy’s “last minute decision” to start PJ Hairston…). It could never be oversold. But the always fun discussion about whether this game is just another game is important because as far as the record book goes, it is. Wednesday was another L in the books; the Tar Heels are now 16-8.
And March is coming fast
You can follow Jordan on Twitter @BlackFalcon_net